By Erin Roberts
11 / 04 / 2024
Red, green, and yellow banner standing on the peak and summit of Gokyo Ri in Nepal overlooking the massive Khumbu Valley and Mount Everest, Chomolungma. Image credit: Kalle Kortelainen via unsplash

“For whatever goal you want to achieve, there is discomfort along that path. Self-discipline drives you through this discomfort and allows you to achieve and attain. It’s an essential component of mastery, and nothing great was ever accomplished without it.”

Peter Hollins

Last week I crushed my to-do list. Crushed it. I provided inputs into documents that were then finalised and released into the world (or at least to our community).  I joined several cool conversations with amazing people, many of whom I’d never met and connected with a few folks new to Loss and Damage. I met one of my amazing colleagues in person for the very first time and talked to a couple of journalists. I provided reflections and inputs on the development of a new website for our sister initiative, the Climate Leadership Initiative (CLI). All amidst keeping up with emails to the extent possible (because can we ever really “keep up” with our emails?) and a full slate of calls on my call days. At the end of the week I felt like a superhero. Head held high, my cape flowing in the wind behind me, I swaggered my way into a weekend of well-earned down time.

And then the crash came. And oh what a crash it was. Because what goes up, must come down. On Saturday morning, I could barely get out of bed. I was completely exhausted and suffering from the effects of a week of overstimulation. I didn’t want to see anyone or do anything.

Because, you see Dear Reader, what I failed to mention in the description above, is all the things that I sacrificed in order to crush my to-do list. All the ways that it cost me. Like a thousand tiny paper cuts, it all added up to me curled up in my bed on Saturday morning: mentally and emotionally low and physically depleted. I couldn’t figure it out. Why am I feeling so wretched? Why am I in such a bad mood? And what happened to my cape?

“The foundation of a strong self comes from small acts of daily discipline.”

Ophelia Filek

It took a little longer than it should have for the answer to come. For the fog to clear from my brain. But once it did, I realised that I felt wretched because I hadn’t chosen myself the previous week. I was reaping the consequences of some decisions that were good for my to-do list, but bad for my mind, body and soul.

The set up for my spectacular fall came before the week even started. I spent much of the previous Saturday providing inputs for the final version of the CLI website. I don’t have funding for my work with young negotiators at the moment. That means that in order to support the team delivering the New Generation program I need to make time amongst my other work and sometimes that means working on the weekends.

Helping shape the website, after having left the CLI team on their own for some time to progress without me, felt good. But it shortened my weekend by one day which soon became two. Typically I am meant to have Mondays off but last Monday we were co-hosting a briefing on Loss and Damage for funders which I was leading on. So Monday was dedicated to preparing for and then joining the briefing, which took place in the evening in my part of the world. And while it was great, it took some time to come down from the high and that meant I didn’t sleep very well that night.

On Tuesday I had eight hours of straight calls. Eight. Hours. I felt like a zombie by the end of the day. It felt like the very early days of the pandemic. Remember those days?  When we took the intensity of our in-person meeting schedules to the world wide web?

Wednesday, my deep work day, was spent finalising documents to move work forward on a few fronts and developing proposals to fund said work.

On Thursday I was on a train to London before 6 am so that I could get into and then across the city before my first call of the day, which took place before a day of meetings bookended with more calls.

Friday was supposed to be my day off in lieu of working Monday but I ended up supporting the New Generation support team throughout the day as the website launch was looming as was the end of the current program with our second cohort.

All of that culminated in the conditions that led to me being curled up in a ball weeping into my pillow (not really but definitely feeling low) on Saturday morning.

I was meant to go over to a friend’s on Saturday afternoon to use their cold plunge but I just couldn’t summon the mental fortitude it would take to endure even a second of cold water, let alone a few minutes. I messaged my friend to let them know and later in the day we went for a walk instead. During the walk they gave me grace and a compassionate ear but afterwards sent me a link to an episode of the Modern Wisdom podcast (we’re personal development junkies) with host Chris Williamson and author Steven Bartlett and told me that listening to minute 21:37 “made me think of you”. I opened the link and fast-forwarded 21 minutes and 37 seconds to listen to what my friend wanted me to hear. The lesson in what I heard is that in not following through on my commitment to prioritise my wellbeing the previous week, I hadn’t had my own back and in a sense I’d lost my own respect. I hadn’t embodied self-love or courage - two themes I’d literally just written about. Rather, I just kind of went with the flow.

The honest truth is that I wasn’t walking the walk. And confronting that was, well, not the greatest let’s say.  Piled on top of the wretchedness came the feeling of being wrong. But then I realised that part of self-love is giving ourselves grace. And that shame is the opposite of that. Researcher and thought leader Brené Brown differentiates between guilt and shame:

“Based on my research and the research of other shame researchers, I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful—it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort. I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging—something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behaviour than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.”

Once I sat with that for a bit I realised that I wasn’t wrong, but I’d made some poor decisions and that enabled me to course correct.

I relate to the quote at the top of this blog so much. I’m hitting so many edges in this journey, sitting in so many moments, hours and sometimes days of discomfort. The evening before a morning I want to write, be it a policy brief, a funding proposal or a blog, I have to take all the apps that might tempt me to distract myself – just for that one dopamine hit - off my desktop. Sometimes I uninstall them entirely if I’m feeling particularly wobbly. I always have my phone on airplane mode at night and on most work days I don’t go online until I’ve got my deep work done.

“Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me, it is a kind of order that sets me free to fly.”

Julie Andrews

Usually, I start my blogs on Fridays when the rest of the team is off. But this week I started mid-week as I have a lot going on and need to get it off my plate sooner than later (not that writing these blogs for you is a chore but it is another thing on my to do list I need to get done each month). Wednesdays are always my deep work days but typically I only do deep work for a few hours before I feel a document is ready for the rest of the team to see. Then I go online and start interacting with folks. Which is the part of my work I love most. But today I needed to do more research and that meant staying offline a little longer. And that led to a huge amount of discomfort.

I believe with every fibre of my being that the topics I write about are things we need to be thinking and talking about more but these blogs still feel like a guilty pleasure. Writing my blogs - even before I started writing about wellbeing -  used to be something I did entirely in my own time because I felt like it was frivolous and not something I should be using funded time to do. Only recently have I started writing on work days. Part of me still feels like it’s not “real work”. When I start to write, often I hear a voice inside of me saying: “You’re a climate policy researcher. Why are you writing these little blogs?” Sometimes it says, “Why did you get a PhD if you’re not going to use it? If you’re just going to faff around with these silly things?”

As if that’s what makes me legit. Having a PhD. As if I have to earn my worthiness with academic credentials. Not good enough simply being human.

Did I mention my inner voice is kinda mean?  Yours might be too. But that will change as we cultivate more and more self-love.

I’m in the very early days of that journey. And it’s often hard. I do very little technical work these days. Most of my writing is funding proposals, concept notes and other documents to help keep our team and our Collaboration running. I’ve learned to find joy in that work. To feel grateful that I get to do something I love and now to have funding after many years of doing this work as a side hustle (which was never really on the side).

“A disciplined mind leads to happiness, and an undisciplined mind leads to suffering.”

Dalai Lama

Part of the journey to wellbeing is fitting my work into my work days after a long time of my work completely taking over every aspect of my life. Now I’m taking back time little by little. Putting it into a pocket for myself.  

And that means that increasingly I’m making time to write my blogs in those days dedicated to work. So on the day I wrote the first draft of this blog I set aside a few hours to write on a Wednesday morning. I found it very difficult to focus initially. I wanted so badly to check in with the teams. Some had already finished their workday. I wondered how their days went.  How are they doing? What’s coming up today? Is there anything I need to do?  I felt agitated for not knowing but really I just wanted to connect, to feel useful, to leave the silence, escape the thoughts inside my head telling me I am not good enough and distract myself with busy-ness. My right leg was literally shaking as it lay across its mate. My whole body was just jonesing for a fix. Give me just that one shot of dopamine it told me. Give me some connection, a little bit of validation, and then I’ll settle down and write for you.

Lies. All lies.

What will really happen is that I’ll go down a rabbit hole, chasing messages, finding and sending documents and connecting people to each other. Before long, I’ll be deep in my email inbox and who knows what that will lead to. Connections, yes, but perhaps also chaos. Chaos in my mind, definitely. Adrenaline will start pumping. And yes I’ll feel alive, sure. But at what cost? I sit with that feeling for a moment. What’s going on here? I come to realise that maybe that’s what I’m chasing, that feeling of being useful. Of doing rather than being. Of feeling needed. Of feeling worthy. Being enough. To matter. I want to matter.

But here’s the thing: right here in this moment I’m already enough. Right here in this moment I’m already perfect. I know those things to be true but those truths are stuck in my mind.  I need to take a few moments to let them wash over my body. So, I stop and meditate for a few minutes. Follow my breath. Feel my diaphragm expanding with each breath in (if you want to learn more about breathe I highly recommend the book of the same name - Breath by James Nestor – it’s a game changer).

“Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.”

Frank Herbert

After my nervous system calmed down, I went inside and asked myself: “What’s going on with you?”. It’s a little girl who answers. She tells me that she just wants to matter. To be seen. Heard. Loved. Respected. I put my hand on my heart as I often do when I need to calm myself down and I say: “You do matter, sweetheart. You are seen. You are heard. You are loved. You are respected. You are enough. Just as you are. I’m here. You’re okay. You’re safe.” And I wait for a few moments for it to sink in for her. And I can feel the moment that it does. A deep breath in and a whooshing out. Silence. Then calm. Sinking deeper into the moment. More silence.

Now I’m ready to get back to writing.

It took discipline not to listen to that voice that told me to check in with all the portals and platforms when I first started writing this blog. But last night I logged off of the online platforms and took the apps off my desktop for a reason. To give myself time and space to write. Not just for myself. These blogs are opening up conversations. I hear that every day and I want to honour that. But make no mistake Dear Reader. That takes self-love and it takes courage. To push back on the voices that live inside me. And it takes discipline to stay away from the things that will take me away from this moment, detract from this work.

“Discipline is choosing between what you want now, and what you want most.”

Abraham Lincoln

Discipline is often invoked in a negative way, as a way to self-flagellate. But it can also create space to enable us to be who we really are. In fact, it was an episode of the Deep Live podcast with author Cal Newport that made me realise just how important discipline is to creating the life that I want: one in which wellbeing and doing work I love co-exist, mutually reinforcing each other and enabling me to thrive.

In the podcast episode Newport introduces the Deep Life Stack which is a set of foundations or layers that build on one another to enable a person to reinvent their life (in his words).

The first layer is discipline. The goal in Newport’s words is to,“become the type of person who is able to persist with things that are difficult in the comment in pursuit of a greater good in the longer term.” For Newport discipline is not something you do but something you are.

“Discipline is built by consistently performing small acts of courage.”

Robin Sharma

To cultivate discipline, Newport recommends keeping track of what you commit to and creating systems for how you are going to do it. So for example, if I commit to going to the gym five times a week I need to set myself up to fulfil that promise to myself. So the gym clothes might be ready, the alarm set, the water bottle filled the night before. I have a workspace that is close to the gym. If I commit to doing yoga before I start work I need to figure out what I need in order to do that. Maybe I leave a note to myself the night before reminding myself how much better I feel when I do yoga before work. These are just a few examples of ways to grow discipline by keeping track of what you commit to and creating systems to keep those promises to yourself. The end result is that as Newport says, “you’re starting to practise commitments that are about long-term value not what you want to do in the short term”.

“Everything we want to do in life requires discipline. And like strength, flexibility and endurance, it can be built over time.”

Laird Hamilton

Once you’re doing a few of these things and realise you’re capable of discipline, the next layer of the Deep Life Stack is focused on values. In this phase you contemplate what is important to you and what values you want at the centre of the life you’re creating. If you want to do a deeper dive on that I recommend listening to the podcast. However, a simple practice is just to write down what you value and to look at how aligned your life is with your core values.

The third layer of the Deep Life Stack is Calm. The purpose of this phase is to gain and maintain control of your time. To do this you’ll need to look at the relationship between your schedule and your workload to get a sense of how much you can have on your plate before you get overwhelmed. You will invariably need to take things off your plate. Newport explains that this will almost certainly lead to higher levels of productivity, not to mention greater wellbeing.

The final step of the Deep Life Stock is to plan. Newport recommends dividing your life into areas where you want to make change. You might zoom out and look at the big picture of your life to see where you want to make change. And then you develop a plan for how to make those changes to get to where you want to get to. At this point you should have the other three layers in place, making those bigger changes easier.

“Self-control is the chief element in self-respect, and self-respect is the chief element in courage.”  


I also find it useful to step back and look at some of the insanity of some of the things I’m doing. While I was working on the first draft of this blog I listened to this conversation between Newport and Rich Roll. These words from Newport resonated with me so much:

“You began to get these absurd situations. Early in the pandemic, for example, you get these situations where they had eight hours of Zoom. Zoom after Zoom after Zoom. The entire time was spent doing work (without actually doing any work – from Roll). It’s so absurd that it’s like a Kafta play or something . . . But it was what people were actually doing. . . People began looking themselves in the mirror and saying: What am I doing here?”

This is not something we left behind when we emerged from the pandemic. It’s one of the many insane things many of us continue to do. I had eight hours of straight calls just the other day. I made something for lunch that I could eat easily while on a call. How insane is that?  And what makes it even more ridiculous is that I know better. But that’s how pervasive hustle culture is. Gotta do, do, do to be worthy.

But to cultivate wellbeing we have to leave the grind behind.

“Through self-discipline comes freedom.”


Roll went on to describe all of the various platforms most of us are expected to check in with every day. He recounted coming back from sabbatical, a month long time away from work in which he was able to at least a partial digital detox, and how he felt compelled to check in with all the platforms: Email, Slack. LinkedIn, not to mention Twitter/X or Instagram and then there’s all the texting platforms like What’s App, Signal, Telegram and now Voxer which I just joined the other day because a course I’m taking uses it. And then as Roll says, as soon as you finish checking in with all the people on all the things you start all over again replying to the responses:

“You spend your whole day in defence mode and not being intentional about being on the offence. Tackling the things that are most important and then you leave feeling dispirited and feeling like you didn’t actually accomplish anything. And you’re not really.”

We’re letting these apps rule our lives, Dear Reader. Letter others’ priorities dictate what we do and how we do it. We’re not the lion(esses). We’re the sheep. And the reason for this, Newport argues, is that we don’t have another workable definition of productivity other than “doing”. In order to matter, in order to be enough, we need to be seen doing.

Last week showed me the cost of that. Yesterday I had three hours of straight calls and I realised that’s my limit. They are all working calls so it’s hard to walk and talk as we’re literally co-creating documents. But I decided that I’m not doing straight days of calls anymore. Because every call has a series of action points that I need to follow up on. And if our days are chock a block full of calls when are we supposed to do the actions Dear Reader? In our own time? No. No. I’m not having that. I don’t want it for myself. I don’t want it for the teams I work with. And I don’t want it for our community. But pushing back on the conditioning that keeps us stuck in unhealthy patterns, first it takes courage and then it takes discipline.

“Without discipline, there’s no life at all.”

Katherine Hepburn

Now as I’ve acknowledged before I have freedoms and privileges that you might not have. I work in containers that are still being built, they are evolving to meet the needs of the teams. They are imperfect, certainly, but we regularly have conversations about wellbeing and what each of us needs to thrive. That doesn’t mean we don’t get work done. We move a huge amount of work each week. But we have conversations about what we can realistically take on and try not to do too many things at once. Again, stressing the “try” because we also make a lot of mistakes. But the point is to learn from those mistakes as I did in the aftermath of crushing my to do list last week.

If you have someone you answer to, Newport suggests that you could “bootstrap” doing fewer things at once, which is essentially learning by doing. He argues that doing fewer things will increase your productivity, which will make a business case for continuing to do fewer things and streamlining workloads, refining schedules and so on. Newport also advocates for a pull not push modality, whereby each person on a team gets to pull tasks that others have requested when they are ready for them rather than get tasks pushed upon them. This enables us each to take back our own power and realise how much control we have over our own schedules. To do that we’ll need processes and systems that we’ll all need to participate in building and refining.

No matter what your circumstance you can choose to do things differently. But that’s gonna take self-love and courage and of course, discipline to follow through with doing fewer things. You’re gonna get tempted to do more because you’ve likely been conditioned to believe that’s what you need to do to be worthy - just like I have been. And sometimes you’re going to cave and do more. Sometimes you’re going to say yes when you should say no. When that happens give yourself grace but also learn the lessons and take them forward. I would highly recommend keeping track of how you feel when you do too much compared to when you’re doing fewer things. It might provide the impetus to do less. That’s what happened to me. And it has worked so far (noting its the very early days).

“Rule your mind or it will rule you. ”


But make no mistake, I struggle with the same things you do. The same voices in my head telling me to be productive. Tell me I only matter when I’m doing. That voice telling me I’m less legit than others because I don’t do much technical work. It takes discipline to push back against that voice and to say: No, I’m going to sit down and do this thing that lights my soul on fire and is touching people’s hearts and maybe, just maybe, prompting change. That’s what I hope for, anyway.

What I want for you, Dear Reader, is for you to feel empowered and enabled to put the systems in place that lighten your workload while still making as big an, if not a bigger, impact on the world. I look forward to hearing how that goes and if you have any tips, please do share.

Erin Roberts is the founder and global lead of the Loss and Damage Collaboration. She is on a journey to enhancing her own wellbeing this year and to helping to curate a thriving community of actors working on Loss and Damage. She hopes you are joining us and looks forward to hearing from you. The next blog in the series, coming to a screen near you in May, is on the theme of embodiment, written with a guest author who, unlike her, is an actual trained expert on wellbeing!

Further reading:

Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits. London: Cornerstone. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/atomic-habits-the-life-changing-million-copy-1-bestseller-james-clear/2458373?ean=9781847941831.

Holiday, R. (2023). Discipline is Destiny: The Power of Self Control. London: Profile Books Ltd. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/discipline-is-destiny-a-new-york-times-bestseller-ryan-holiday/6330946?ean=9781788166348.

Holiday, R. (2020). Stillness is the Key: An Ancient Strategy for Modern Life. London: Profile Books Ltd. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/stillness-is-the-key-an-ancient-strategy-for-modern-life-ryan-holiday/1965395?ean=9781788162067.

Holiday, R. and S. Hanselman (2016). The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living. London: Profile Book Ltd. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/lives-of-the-stoics-the-art-of-living-from-zeno-to-marcus-aurelius-ryan-holiday/1965394?ean=9781788166010.

Holiday, R. and S. Hanselman (2022). Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Arelius. London: Profile Book Ltd. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/lives-of-the-stoics-the-art-of-living-from-zeno-to-marcus-aurelius-ryan-holiday/1965394?ean=9781788166010.

Irvine, W.B. (2021). The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher’s Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer and More Resilient. London: WW Norton & Co. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/the-stoic-challenge-a-philosopher-s-guide-to-becoming-tougher-calmer-and-more-resilient-william-b-irvine/2713219?ean=9780393541496.

McKeown, G. (2021). Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. London: Ebury Publishing. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/essentialism-the-disciplined-pursuit-of-less-greg-mckeown/547138?ean=9780753558690.

McRaven, M.H. (2010). Make Your Bed: Feel grounded and think positive in 10 simple steps. London: Penguin Books Ltd. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/make-your-bed-feel-grounded-and-think-positive-in-10-simple-steps-admiral-william-h-mcraven/1372718?ean=9780718188863.

Newport, C. (2016). Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. London: Little, Brown Book Group. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/deep-work-rules-for-focused-success-in-a-distracted-world-cal-newport/3448003?ean=9780349411903.

Newport, C. (2020). Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. London: Penguin Books Ltd. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/digital-minimalism-choosing-a-focused-life-in-a-noisy-world-cal-newport/568280?ean=9780241453575.

Newport, C. (2024). Slow Productivity: The Lost Art of Accomplishment Without Burnout. London: Penguin Books Ltd. Find it here: https://uk.bookshop.org/p/books/slow-productivity-the-lost-art-of-accomplishment-without-burnout-cal-newport/7609760?ean=9780241652916.